Some of you may be interested to know that I am now editing and blogging over at our church blog, Jesus & Taxes (<— click to visit!).

What’s in a name? In the name of this blog, a few things.

Jesus & Taxes.

There is a nod, to be sure, towards the well known quotation, “but in this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.” Well, we might add that Jesus is certain, and that because Jesus is certain the certainty of death is transformed. Death is no longer the enemy it once was, for Christ trampled down death by his death so that for those of us who are in Christ there is life in death. This is the mystery of Christ.

There is another reason for the name Jesus & Taxes that cuts closer to home, though. We are St. Matthew’s Riverdale. Now, Matthew, as perhaps you may know was not always a saint. Indeed, Matthew (or, Levi) used to be a tax-collector. That is, he collected taxes (and then some) for the Roman Empire. The scandal here is that Matthew was a Jew. A Jew, oppressing and taking money from his own people to give to the Romans, the very people that were occupying the land in which the Jews lived. He was working for the enemy. Yeah. So, maybe you can see why “tax-collectors” were lumped in with “sinners” and perhaps get a sense of why the religious leaders were so bothered when Jesus went to eat at this man’s home: “When the scribes and the Pharisees saw that he was eating with sinners and tax-collectors, they said to his disciples, ‘Why does he eat with tax-collectors and sinners?'” (Mark 2:16).

Now, Matthew left his tax-collecting ways to follow Jesus after Jesus had approached him at his place of work and called him to leave everything to go on an adventure (Mark 2:13-14). This is the man that our little church is named after and that’s fantastic because we’re trying to be like Matthew in our day-to-day lives right here in Riverdale.

Jesus & Taxes. Sometimes you have to leave what you’re familiar with to follow Jesus, like Matthew did. And that’s risky. I’ll leave you with these thoughts:

1) Jesus saw Matthew. In the same way, Jesus sees me and he sees you. We are in his view. Jesus was engaged in something very personal with Matthew to the point that he entered into his home and ate with him. In the same way, Jesus in interested in you and I personally (though not privately, that’s another blog post!). We try to live our lives together in Riverdale knowing that we are seen by Jesus so that we ourselves might see the risen and living Jesus here in our midst.

2) Jesus calls Matthew to follow him and, here’s the crazy part, Matthew did! The church is a community of followers, a nomadic community, a community on-the-move. The uncertainty involved in this can be uncomfortable and unsettling. But any adventure worth having involves risk. Following Jesus is risky, it may well involve leaving some things behind, but we can trust Jesus who is certain in the midst of uncertainty. We know that Jesus is on the move in Riverdale and he has called us to follow him right here in this place. We want to extend that invitation to you also! Would you join in with us as we follow in the way of Jesus?

3) Jesus freely associates with “sinners” to the point where he is numbered among them. Jesus didn’t come for those who are well, he came for the sick. Maybe you’ve experienced the weight of this in your own life. You know what it is like to experience brokenness and death. You’ve been hurt and you’ve hurt others. Jesus comes into the middle of this mess as the only one who can set things right. And he does. Our lives are messy and Jesus calls us to follow him before we have time to clean ourselves up. Whoever you are, wherever you’ve been, Jesus welcomes you and wants to dine with you. Will you come to the table?

There you have it, some of our hopes for this blog. We’ll be posting content here at least twice weekly on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons and we’d love for you to join in on the discussion!

Grace and peace.

Crucifixion.andreas.pavias

Good Friday, 2014 – Isaiah 52:13-53:12; Psalm 22; Hebrews 10:16-25; John 18:1-19:42

“When Jesus had received the wine, he said, “It is finished.” Then he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.” John 19:30

Living God, we thank you that in your Son Christ Jesus you accomplished for us what we could not accomplish on our own. Thank you that our whole lives are taken up into the sacrificial offering of your Son’s own life on the cross, and that in his death, we live. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

As he hung there on the cross, that torturous Roman instrument of death, the weight of his body bearing down on those nails that pierced his hands and feet, beaten and bloodied, he inhaled and with his final breath said, “It is finished.” I tell you, this small phrase is so vast and so deep that its treasures will never be exhausted. More was said in this one breath than has been said since and could ever be said. For in this phrase we get a glimpse of the glorious beauty of the gospel, that is, of God’s sacrificial and holy love for the whole wide world, and for you and I. Behold, Christ Jesus nailed to the cross! Behold the servant of the Lord in all his glory, exalted and lifted up (Is. 52:13)! Hear the broken cry of victory from his lips: “It is finished.”

Here we are, at the end of the long journey of Lent that culminates in this most Holy of weeks. This whole journey has been a set-up. That is John, the author of the gospel, has set us up to see what he has seen and thus, like him, to be witnesses equipped and ready to testify to the truth before the world. And that truth is not a concept or an idea, not a bumper sticker or an argument, that truth is Jesus the Christ, the one who at the end of our gospel reading, “bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” and died. Behold the Light! The Life! The Truth!

It is imperative that we hear these final words of Jesus from the cross in light of the very first words of John’s gospel: “In the beginning,” says John, “was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it,” (1:1-5). Even now – even here on the cross – the darkness did not overcome it.

During the whole fiasco of a trial that immediately preceded Jesus’ death, that “perversion of justice” (Isaiah 53:8) by which the Son of man was rejected by man, the Roman governor Pilate had Jesus flogged, dressed up like a king though his crown was made of thorns, mocked him, and struck him on the face (19:1-3). Pilate then brought him out in front of the crowds (“to let you know that I find no case against him,” v4), stood him there, and proclaimed, “Behold the man!” (v5). The man. Now, if we’re hearing all of this in light of, “In the beginning…” then we can’t not think of the man that was in the beginning, Adam. Indeed, some of the earliest Christians identified the place of Jesus’ crucifixion with the burial place of Adam. Thus, portrayals of the crucifixion quite often feature a skull at the base of the cross.

The new Adam, Jesus, brings salvation to the old Adam through his sacrificial love poured out on the cross.

“Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, and over all the wild animals of the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps upon the earth,” (Genesis 1:26). God makes man (the Hebrew word there is adam from which we get Adam) and sets them in the garden. Why? To take it, all of it, and offer it back to God in praise and thanksgiving. That is, Adam was a priest and the whole earth was his offering. The gift received in love was to be offered back in reciprocal love, the glorious unity of God and man. Only, that didn’t happen. The sin of the first Adam, the old Adam, was to reject the giver of the gift, it was to take the gift and seek it for itself, quite apart from the giver. No giving thanks. No offering it back. No union of love. But this gift was nothing less than the very life of man, the rejection of which meant death. The words that we opened with this morning describe the sin of Adam: “All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way.” The union between God and man, the union of sacrificial love, was up-ended and exchanged for the dis-union of enmity and strife. The old Adam was unable to finish the priestly work that he was made to do and thus unable to grow up into and attain to that perfect unity of sacrificial love, of giving and receiving, of laying down ones will for the will of the other.

And so, as the Apostle Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “Sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned,” (5:12). The prideful self-assertion of the old Adam’s will over the will of the God who loved him and who he was made to love in return was a cancer that left no corner of creation untouched: “and so death spread to all because all have sinned.” We are, slaves, slaves to sin and death. Victim and perpetrator — this is us. We are the old Adam and he is us.

The new Adam, that is Christ Jesus, comes into the midst of our enslavement to sin and death and he too comes as priest to take all of creation, every last mangled and death-kissed bit of it, up into his own obedient offering to the Father. In his own flesh, Jesus assumes and takes on our humanness and identifies with us fully in the decay of our sin, though he himself is without sin, because he does this in perfect unity with the Father. The prophet Isaiah writes that, “it was the will of the Lord to crush him with pain,” (Is. 53:10). And Jesus was crushed as Isaiah continues: “He was despised and rejected by others; a man of suffering and acquainted with infirmity…he was wounded for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities…he was cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people…although he had done no violence, and there was no deceit in his mouth,” (Is. 53).

And Jesus did this not reluctantly but joyfully, as Jeff preached about last evening. Indeed, Jesus thirsts to do this. “I am thirsty,” he says from the cross. Thirsty for what? Thirsty to drink the cup that his Father had given him to drink (18:11). And notice also, Jesus does not passively die, the victim. No, “he bowed his head and gave up his spirit,” (19:30). He gave it up, his final priestly offering that brought all other offerings to an end. What we see here, is the priestly offering of the new Adam, the offering of himself and of the whole cosmos in himself back to the Father. The obedient offering of reciprocal love. The gift given, and received, and returned, eternally. And this love, unites God and man forever in an inseparable union. The new Adam brings to fulfillment what the old Adam was unable to. And so, at the beginning of our gospel reading this morning, Jesus willingly, joyfully, enters into the garden that holds for him certain death (18:1), in order to deliver us from Adam’s death in the first garden of paradise (Cyril of Alexandria).

Why? Love. “He was wounded for our transgression, crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the punishment that made us whole, and by his bruises we are healed,” (Is. 53:5). His wounds – our healing. His death – our life: “The righteous one, my servant, shall make many righteous,” (Is. 53:11). “Therefore,” writes St. Paul, “just as one man’s trespass led to condemnation for all, so one man’s act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all. For just as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous,” (Rom. 5:18-19). And this, like all things we receive from the hand of God, is a gift: “For if the many died through the one man’s trespass, much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many,” (Rom. 5:15). This is why the death of Christ on the cross is a victory rather than a defeat, because in his death he subverts death and turns it on its head, trampling down death by his own death so that life and freedom might come bursting in. And so it was, the blood of Christ, the new Adam, as it dropped from the cross, washed away the sins of the buried one, the first Adam (Jerome). Thus, the words of St. Paul were fulfilled: “Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give you light,” (Eph. 5:14).

If it is true that the life of God is hidden in the death of Jesus, then it is true that our life is hidden there also. What is required of you and I, then? Is it some effort, some further sacrifice? No! What is required of us is not something that we can do — salvation is not a matter of self-improvement. What is required of us is, in a sense, the end of our doing, the end of self-improvement—what is required of us is nothing less and nothing more than our own death, more specifically, our own death in Christ’s own death.

When Christ’s side is pierced two things flow out, water and blood. The water is the water of baptism. The Crucifixion is Christ’s glorious baptism and when we are baptized it is into Christ’s death on the cross, and our whole life is taken up into God’s whole life so that we no longer live but Christ lives in us (Gal. 2:20) This is a matter of fact. Indeed, many early baptismals were in the shape of a cross. The blood that spills out is the blood of the New Covenant which was shed for “many for the forgiveness of sins”. This is the cup of wine which we share in the Eucharist. Christ’s blood, shed for us. And in consuming Christ’s broken body in the Eucharist we in all of our brokenness are taken up into Christ and become his body, broken and poured out for the world. And so, in baptism and the Eucharist Christ’s death is made present to us in a very real way, in such a way that you and I are gathered around the risen Jesus to form a community that is in the shape of the cross.

As we behold Christ lifted up on the cross here this morning, as we approach the cross shortly, would you come and die here with Christ, die here in Christ? Would we, like Jesus, lay down our wills and pick up the Cross and follow him? Would we give ourselves in sacrificial love for one another that we may be one? For this is the glory that the Father gave the Son and that the Son has shared with us, the glory of the Cross, the glory of total and utter unity of will between the Father and Son has been opened up to us that we too may lay down our wills and take up Christ’s.

May our common life increasingly be a testimony to the reality that in Jesus the old humanity, ruled as it was by sin and sin itself was taken and killed and buried in and with Jesus on the cross.

One person, Jesus Christ, has made an end of us as sinners and therefore has made an end of sin itself by going to death as the One who took our place. Let us live out of this new reality, and thus bear witness to Christ in the midst of a watching world. Amen.

***

Sermon was preached by Jonathan Turtle at St. Matthew’s Riverdale
on Good Friday, April 18th, 2014.

Lent 5A – Ezekiel 37:1-14; Psalm 130; Romans 8:6-11; John 11:1-45

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” Psalm 130:1

Heavenly Father, I thank you that in your Son Christ Jesus, the Resurrection and the Life, you have come bursting into the depths of our sin and death. Pour out your Spirit upon us, that we might live. Amen.

We know of no other life than one marked by pain and suffering. We are born, we live, we strive after things that we can never quite attain, we hurt others, we’re hurt by others, our loved ones fall sick, the economy crashes, we lose our money, our health, and in the end we die. All of us. Our life is but a breath. We began our Lenten journey on this note on Ash Wednesday: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you shall return.” The Ashes smudged on our foreheads, a visible reminder of our creatureliness. We were made, our lives are finite and hemmed in. The Christian life is no escape from this suffering. The hope of the Christian faith is not that we would get through life unscathed.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord. Lord, hear my voice!” We are acquainted you and I, as is the Psalmist, with the depths. “If you, O Lord, should mark iniquities, Lord, who could stand?” We know full-well the weight of sin and death even if our Modern ears sometimes have a hard time with the language of sin. Consider the prophet Ezekiel, brought out by the Spirit of the Lord and set down in the middle of a valley: “It was full of bones”. “He led me all around them; there were very many lying in the valley, and they were very dry.” “Mortal, can these bones live?” “O Lord God, you know.” Consider Mary and Martha and their ill brother Lazarus. The sisters send a message to Jesus, “Lord, he whom you love is ill.” They were convinced that Jesus is not one who loves and then abandons those he loves. Yet, Jesus did not mention this request to his disciples nor did he send a message back to say, “We’re on our way.” For Christ, it was more important to conquer death than to cure disease. So, he stayed there, and Mary and Martha, in Bethany, watched their beloved brother die.

What was Jesus doing during those two days he waited? Perhaps he was praying, not only for Lazarus but for himself and the journey that lay ahead of him which was being prefigured in Lazarus’ own death. Perhaps, as some of the Church Fathers said, he was granting free reign to the grave, allowing the realm of darkness to seize his friend, drag him down to the underworld, and take possession of him (Peter Chrysologus).

Perhaps Jesus permits this so that human hope may perish entirely and human despair reach its lowest depths so that the deed he is about to accomplish may then clearly be seen to be the work of God, not of man.

“Out of the depths I cry to you, O Lord.” And when their hope was exhausted and their dead brother wrapped in burial clothes and laid in the tomb, the sisters again cried out to Jesus from the depths of their despair. When Martha heard that Jesus was on his way she ran out to meet him: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died. But even now I know that God will give you whatever you ask of him.” It is interesting to hear Martha’s words and observe her interaction with Jesus. At first glance, Martha’s proclamation of faith in light of her deep sense of grief and loss seems admirable. However, I can’t help but wonder if Martha was short-circuiting or denying the pain of losing her brother, the pain of human life. She mentions the loss but then refuses to stay there. It seems as if her proclamation of faith is an attempt to climb out of the depths herself. Contrast this with Mary who later runs out to meet Jesus. Her words are the same as Martha’s except Mary does not include the assertion of v22: “Lord, if only you had been here, my brother would not have died,” she cries as she falls at the feet of Jesus and weeps. Mary’s words to Jesus do not include Martha’s assertion because Mary’s words are exhausted with the grief of, “If only…”. “If only you had been here…”.

As Mary falls at Christ’s feet weeping, she illustrates what it is like to truly cry out to God from the depths: “Lord hear my voice!” I was overwhelmed this week by Jesus’ response to Mary. Does he try to fix the pain of her loss? Does he remove the pain with words of comfort and encouragement? He does not. Rather, when he saw her weeping, and saw those with her weeping, “he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved,” and he himself began to weep. I love N.T. Wright’s translation: “Jesus burst into tears.”

I suspect that you and I both are acquainted with the pain of, “If only…”. It’s a kind of nostalgia, not for the past as it was, but for the present that could have been, if only the past had been just a little bit different (N.T. Wright). If only my father hadn’t of left when I was so young; if only I hadn’t of lost my job when I did; if only I had of been able to carry my child to term; if only my wife’s health wasn’t so fragile; if only I hadn’t of spent so many hours at work when the kids were young. May we cry out to Christ Jesus from the depth of our pain and loss, from within the midst of the chaos and confusion and, when all of our striving and our grieving is drawn out and we come to the end of ourselves, may we know somehow the mystery that in Christ God is right there in the pain, in the darkness of the depths.

There is another, “If only…” perhaps more fundamental to our human experience. That is, the mystery of iniquity, the “If only…” of sin. This was Israel’s idolatry, their abandonment of God that left them cut off from God’s Spirit to become a valley of dry bones, void of life. This is what Paul in his letter to the Roman’s calls “the flesh”, which is hostile to God and when we set our minds on it is death (8:6, 7). And like Lazarus, this is the tomb in which we are trapped, death has come over us and the stench has filled the air. Yet just here Christ met Lazarus, and he has met us here also.

“Mortal, can these bones live?” Jesus weeps, he pours out his tears and in-so-doing pours out the Spirit of life. The tears of Jesus are the living water we heard about two weeks ago that the woman at the well was thirsting after. He takes the tears of Mary and Martha, and our tears, up into himself and pours them out with his own tears. His tears are like the rain, and Lazarus like a grain of wheat, and the tomb like the earth. Jesus gave forth a cry like that of thunder, and death trembled at his voice. Lazarus burst forth like a grain of wheat (Ephrem the Syrian). And Jesus wept out of compassion not just for Lazarus but for all humanity which is subject to sin and death (Cyril of Alexandria). And his weeping is active, it means that he is fighting for them, for us. On the way to the grave of Lazarus, as he wept with those who wept in the face of the undeniable reality of death, Jesus’ tears were themselves a resolute “No” to this reality. Looking death in the face, he is already on the way to banish it from the world (Karl Barth).

“He has borne our griefs,” said Isaiah, “and carried our sorrows,” (53:4, N.T. Wright’s translation). Jesus doesn’t sweep onto the scene and declare that tears are beside the point, that Lazarus is not dead, only asleep. Even though he has no doubt what he will do, and what his Father will do through him, there is no sense of triumphalism. There is, rather, the man of sorrows, acquainted with our grief and pain, sharing and bearing it to the point of tears (Wright). It is true also, that Jesus shed tears as he felt the weight of the journey that was to come, his own fate upon the cross. In telling the story of Lazarus John no doubt means to point us towards Jesus’ own death and resurrection, and in him our own.

I began by saying that we know of no other life than one marked by pain and suffering. This is true but it is incomplete for what we have witnessed this morning, and what we witness each and every time we gather around the Eucharist, or witness a baptism, is that Jesus, the storehouse that is full of life, enters into the midst of the tomb in which we find ourselves and calls us out. The sweet odour of his words cast out the stench of death.

In the words of the Psalmist, the Lord indeed hears our cry from the depths and in him there is forgiveness. And so we put our hope in the Lord for, “It is he who will redeem Israel from all its iniquities.” In the words of the prophet Ezekiel, Jesus is he that breathes upon the slain, that they may live. Or, as Paul wrote to the church in Rome, “If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will give life to your mortal bodies also through his Spirit that dwells in you.” I say again, the hope of the Christian faith is not that we would get through life unscathed. Rather, the hope of the Christian life is that all of our wounds, all of our pain, all of the ways in which we are both victims of and perpetrators of sin and death, all of this is taken up into Christ’s own death and just there we find life.

Christ’s own death. In John’s gospel, when Jesus announces to his disciples that it is time for them to go and see Lazarus and his sisters, the disciples are initially taken aback: “Rabbi, the Jews were just now trying to stone you, and are you going there again?” (11:8). When they cannot dissuade him from going, Thomas reluctantly says to his fellow disciples, “Let us also go, that we may die with him,” (11:16). Perhaps Thomas knew that it would not be possible to live with Jesus except by having died with him (Origen). Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem where he will die and on the way he demonstrates, in a very particular instance with the raising of Lazarus, the depth of God’s grace and love which is about to be opened to the whole world in Christ’s own death and resurrection. During this Lenten season we have been journeying with Jesus and the disciples along the way, knowing full-well where this journey ends: “Let us also go, that we may die with him.” There is a great deal that we do not understand, and our hopes and plans often get thwarted. But if we go with Jesus, even if it’s into the jaws of death, we will be walking in the light, whereas if we press ahead with our own plans and ambitions we are bound to trip up (Wright).

Traditionally, Lent serves as a time of preparation for those who will be baptized during Easter. Perhaps you have been journeying with us here at St. Matthew’s for some time, or maybe you’re new, and have never been baptized. Hear the voice of Jesus, the resurrection and the life, who has entered into the depths of your despair and who stands now at the entrance of your tomb and calls you to come out! For those of us who are baptized, may this season call to memory what our baptism means: “Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we have been buried with him by baptism into death, so that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, so we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we will certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body of sin might be destroyed, and we might no longer be enslaved to sin. For whoever has died is freed from sin. But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again: death no longer has dominion over him…So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus,” (Romans 6:3-9, 11). Let us therefore set our mind on the Spirit who is life and peace, the same Spirit that raised Christ Jesus from the dead and who dwells in us that we, like Lazarus, might be resurrected also. Amen.

***

Sermon was preached by Jonathan Turtle at St. Matthew’s Riverdale
on the fifth Sunday in Lent, April 6th, 2014.

The-last-supper

Reading through Hosea last week for our parish bible study I was struck anew by the significance of the marriage imagery.

Clearly, marriage is a central image as far as understanding Hosea goes, and not just any marriage: “When the LORD began to speak through Hosea, the LORD said to him, “Go, take to yourself an adulterous wife and children of unfaithfulness”…So he married Gomer daughter of Diblaim, and she conceived and bore him a son,” (1:2-3).

Indeed, marriage is a central image throughout both Old and New Testament. The Bible begins with marriage in Genesis:

“So God created man in his image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it,” (1:27-28).

“But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he took part of the man’s side and closed up the place with flesh. Then the LORD God made a woman from the part he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man…For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh,” (2:20b-22, 24).

It ends with a great wedding feast in Revelation:

“Let us rejoice and be glad and give [the Lord God Almighty] glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready,” (19:7).

“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband…He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (21:1-2, 5).

In Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus he writes at one point to wives and husbands (5:22ff) regarding the sort of sacrificial love that ought to define their relationships. Paul points back to Genesis quoting 2:24 (5:31, “For this reason…”). And yet, just here, Paul confronts us with a great mystery: “This is a profound mystery—but I am talking about Christ and the church,” (5:32).

***

There were a few occasions while reading through Hosea that my mind leaped back to Genesis and the account of the Fall there in ch.3, as well as to various points of Israel’s sordid history. For example, consider some of the language that is used to describe Israel’s sin in Hosea: “They set up kings without my consent; they choose princes without my approval,” (8:4); “My people are determined to turn from me,” (11:7). The language of “unfaithfulness” that permeates the book gets at the same idea. The point is that Israel’s sin had to do with a turning from their God, forsaking his ways for their own ways apart from him.

Was this not the sin of Adam and Eve in the garden? Not a simple act of disobedience but the assertion of the self apart from God. The creature forgetting their creaturely dependence upon (and loving responsibility to) their Creator. The chasm of creation (to borrow a phrase from Ephraim Radner), that is the distinction and separation between Creator and creation, is exaggerated by sin.

A second instance when my mind went to Genesis: “Though Ephraim built many altars for sin offerings, these have become altars for sinning,” (8:11); “Now they sin more and more; they make idols for themselves from their silver, cleverly fashioned images, all of them the work of craftsmen,” (13:2).

Was this not the created destiny of Adam and Eve, only here disfigured and unrecognizable? Were not Adam and Eve, and all human creatures through them, placed in the garden as priests to tend it and work it and offer it all back to their Creator in thanksgiving so that God might be all in all? Is this not the priestly offering of love that human creatures were created to participate in? Yet, what is the LORD’s charge against Israel through Hosea? The altars that were built for sacrifice have become altars for sinning. The human hands which were meant to work the garden and offer it back to God have become twisted up and now take the earth and form it into idols. Priestly hands became whorish hands. Hands meant to offer became hands that take and hold.

And, of course, the result is what? A lack of fruitfulness: “Ephraim is blighted, their root is withered, they yield no fruit. Even if they bear children, I will slay their cherished offspring,” (9:16).

***

Eve is born from Adam’s side. So too the church is born from the side of Jesus Christ (“One of the soldiers pierced Jesus’ side with a spear, bringing a sudden flow of blood and water.” John 19:34). Eve was created out of Adam’s side. A distinction. A separation, but a separation for the sake of a union (“one flesh”). And, union for the sake of fruitfulness (“increase in number”). So too with Christ and the church: a separation, an initial movement away, for the sake of a union, a second movement towards. And this union for the sake of life.

This is the gospel, that in Jesus Christ God has come near to that which is totally other than himself, has sacrificially given himself in love to that which is totally other, has taken upon himself that which is alien to him (i.e. human flesh) so that that which is other might be united to him. And why? For the sake of life. Real life. Eternal life.

***

God has said no to unfaithful Israel. He has cast them off. God has said no to us. He has cast us off. But how? How has God said no to Israel and to us? How has he cast both them and us off? Is God’s ‘no’ to unfaithful Israel not God’s ‘yes’ to Israel? Has God not cast off Israel in her unfaithfulness precisely in his embrace of Israel in her unfaithfulness (ex. Hosea)? And has not all of this happened in the very person and work of the living Jesus Christ? And has this living and reigning Jesus not grasped us by the wrists and pulled us up out of the pit of despair along with him? Indeed he has!

May we return to the LORD as Hosea exhorted Israel (14:1ff), that we might be united with him in love for the sake of life (14:8, “fruitfulness”).

This sermon was preached on Sunday, January 19th, 2014 at St. Matthew’s Anglican church in Riverdale. Here is a link to the readings for the day.

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“Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

Living God, in John’s baptism you reveal Jesus of Nazareth to be your beloved Son, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! May we like sheep who have gone astray follow the Lamb who has led us once and for all out of slavery to sin and death and into the new country which you have prepared for us in advance. Amen.

During my first semester of seminary a friend of mine, a graduate student in the philosophy department, called me up and wanted to get together for lunch. He had some questions about the atonement, that is, Christ’s work on the cross. I was rather chuffed with myself that he had thought to call. As a first year seminary student, clearly I had something to say about the atonement. The brief synopsis of our conversation over burritos is this: He was hung up on the notion of sacrifice that is attached to the death of Jesus. Why the sacrifice? Why the blood? Why not some other means? As it happened, I was ill-equipped at the time to answer these questions. My friend did not say as much, but in hindsight I am curious if it was really the notion of sacrifice that he could not get around, so much as what Jesus’ sacrificial death might mean for him, a sinful human creature, dependent entirely on God for life and for freedom from sin and death.

I suspect this is at one time or another a problem for many of us. Indeed, atonement theories, following in the wake of St. Anselm for example, that highlight the penal nature of the cross, that is, the punishment of sin that is laid upon Christ in our place, are out of fashion these days. I wonder if this way of thinking about the cross makes us uncomfortable, at least on some level, because we don’t like to think that the overcoming of sin would require the shedding of blood. We don’t like to think that it was our sin that led Jesus to the cross. This brings to mind notions of guilt, and guilt means that something is expected of us, and we do not take kindly to the sort of expectations that might hinder the self-directed expression of our own wills and desires. To be fair, these theories are not without their problems, but my point here this morning is that John, in fact, draws a clear connection between Christ’s death and our sin, and he does so by holding up Jesus as the Lamb of God: “Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” The very heart of Christ’s sacrifice, said Karl Barth, is the overcoming of sin, both in its character as our rebellion against God, and in its character as the ground of our hopeless destiny in death. In pointing to Jesus as “God’s Lamb” John is indicating, right here at the start of the gospel story, how things are going to end, and why. Jesus is going to die a sacrificial death for the sin of the world, to judge sin and to free us from it and its power which is manifest in all forms of death, including eternal death. Indeed, by the end of the story the meaning has been made clear. John has the death of Jesus take place on the afternoon when the Passover lambs were being killed in the Temple (19:14). Let us now look towards the Old Testament that we might better understand what John is trying to tell us.

The Passover is a Jewish feast that celebrates the Lord’s deliverance of Israel from slavery in Egypt, and their being spared from death by smearing the blood from a spotless lamb on the frames of their doors. This event developed into a ritualized meal providing the occasion for celebration, reflection, and the formation of community identity. The lamb, once slaughtered, was then roasted and shared by the family with unleavened bread and bitter herbs (12:8-11). This shared household meal provides the context for the head of the family to explain the nature of the observance to the children (12:25-27). Gathered together, the youngest would ask, “Why is this night different from all other nights?” To which the oldest member of the community, seated before the sacrificed lamb, responds by telling of the exodus of the Jewish people, of their departure in the middle of the night under the guidance of the Lord God Himself, present in the pillar of cloud and of fire. He would tell of Moses stretching out his staff over the Red Sea, the waters splitting in two, and of the great passage of Israel between the walls of water. He would tell of the waters coming crashing down on Pharaoh and his armies as the Lord delivered the Hebrews once and for all from their Egyptian oppressors. The “remembrance” of Passover is combined with the “retelling” of the story in such a way that the events of the past are actualized  for every Israelite in the context of the meal. Each family member is caught up in the story, it is their story. As such, Passover came to celebrate not only what God had done in the past but also what God is doing in the present.

After the Hebrews are brought out of Egypt they wander through the desert for 40 years before finally entering the promised land. There, Joshua leads the Hebrews across the Jordan where they stop at a place called Gilgal, and do you know what they did? They celebrated the Passover (5:10-12) and, say the Scriptures, “On the day after the passover, on that very day, they ate the produce of the land, unleavened cakes and parched grain,” (5:11). Thus, Passover not only marks the exit from Egypt, but also marks the entry into the land of promise. Is this not what Isaiah in his own way signifies when he says that the glory of God is made manifest in the servant who is a light to the nations and who spreads the salvation of God to the ends of the earth? Is this not what John the Evangelist means to tell us when the Lamb of God, upon whom the Spirit descends like a dove at his baptism, immediately gathers disciples and who by the end of the gospel will breath on these disciples that they may receive that very Holy Spirit themselves? Indeed it is!

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When John begins his gospel with the proclamation that Jesus is the “Lamb of God” he does so to call all of this to mind. Let me suggest to you that the reason he does so is because John wants us to understand the events concerning Jesus as a new, and better, Exodus story: “Just as God brought the children of Israel out of Egypt, so God was now bringing a new people out of an even older and darker slavery,” (N.T. Wright). The new exodus moves out, wider than just Israel, to embrace all people. This is hinted at already in the Prologue to John’s gospel (1:12-13). Everybody who receives the Word, who believes in his name, can become a newborn child of God. John the Baptist came to testify to this and he did so by quoting from the prophet Isaiah: “I am the voice of one crying out int he wilderness…” (1:23). Let us then hear the word of the Lord to the prophet Isaiah from this mornings’ reading. Speaking of the servant of the Lord who would suffer and die he says: “It is too light a thing that you should be my servant to raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to the end of the earth,” (49:6). Who is this servant that will bring the salvation of God to the world? It is the “lamb that is led to the slaughter,” (53:7) who was “cut off from the land of the living, stricken for the transgression of my people,” (53:8). That Jesus is the Lamb of God means not only freedom from our slavery to sin and death, it means also that a new future opens up to us right here in the present, in which we are united to God and receive from Him the life which He gives and the light which comes from Him as we are born anew in the Spirit.

This Holy Spirit whom we have received, like the Passover, and like the Suffering Servant, gathers and forms a community. Are we not a testimony to that here this morning and in our common life? The old humanity which created enmity between human creatures and between humanity and God, ruled as it was by sin and sin itself was taken and killed and buried in and with Jesus on the cross. One person, Jesus Christ, has made an end of us as sinners and therefore has made an end of sin itself by going to death as the One who took our place. Should we believe this, should we believe that Jesus is the Lamb of God as proclaimed by John the Baptist, and should we follow him like John’s disciples, then we are joined to him and he to us, for God has established a New Covenant, by the blood of his Son rather than by the blood of an ox. And he has given us His own Spirit, rather than the Law. “He put a new song in my mouth,” says the Psalmist (40:3). At the time of the Former Covenant, Moses alone went up into the holy mountain and his face was illumined with divine light (Exodus 34:35). But with the New Covenant, the veil of the Temple which separated the Holy of Holies from the place where the faithful were assembled is torn in two and all who believe have access to the light of the holy mountain (John 4:20-26), for the blood of the New Covenant was shed for “many for the forgiveness of sins,” (The Living God vl.1).

At the end of John’s gospel in accordance with the Old Testament prophets, rather than Jesus’ legs being broken to hasten his death as he hung on the cross, a soldier pierced his side with a spear and out flowed blood and water. When the Lamb of God is portrayed in artwork it is often with blood and water flowing out of a wound in the Lambs’ side and into a chalice. In the bread and the wine of the Eucharist, all of what we’ve been talking about this morning comes into focus. As we approach the table in a few moments don’t just follow the words on the page as Fr. Ajit prays. Make that prayer your own because it is the prayer of the whole church. “Blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb,” writes John in Revelation (19:9). Who is invited? What is the bridal feast of the Lamb? Let us seek out the Lamb that comes to us from Moses, is illumined by Isaiah, indicated by John the Baptist, and recognized by John the Evangelist in the thrust of a spear. Let us seek out the Lamb of God and run to his bridal feast. Or rather, may we see that he sought us out before the foundation of the world (Rev. 13:8). Let us prepare ourselves to partake of it. As St. Paul exhorts the largely Gentile church in Corinth: “Clean out the old yeast so that you may be a new batch, as you really are unleavened. For our paschal lamb, Christ, has been sacrificed. Therefore, let us celebrate the festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth,” (1 Cor. 5:7-8).

God has done that which is sufficient to take away sin, to restore order between the Creator and His creation, to bring us in as new creatures reconciled and therefore at peace with Him, to redeem us from our exile in death. God has done this in Jesus Christ, the Lamb who was slain for the sin of the world. Because of this, our forgiven sin is an old thing—the essence of all that is old, something which is past and done with, which is only the past, which is not the present and has no future (Barth). This is what it means to be made a new creature: “everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” (2 Cor. 5:17). Let us keep the feast. May we rejoice and be glad, may we continue to tell the story, and continue to live the story as our lives are caught up into the ongoing work of Jesus, the light of the nations. Behold! The Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world and who has gone to prepare a feast. May we follow him today and may we find others and invite them to do the same. Amen.

Over the last couple of years I have developed a great interest in the figural reading of Scripture. There have been a number of influences for me here. Individual scholars/priests such as Ephraim Radner and John Behr. (I once heard Radner describe figural reading thus: “The temporal explication through the juxtaposition of her multiple texts, of scriptures’ divine “allness”.) A growing familiarity with the way in which the Church Fathers read and exegete the Scriptures. The Biblical emphasis in the NT on Christ’s life, death, resurrection, and ascension being “in accordance with” the Scriptures (by which the NT writers mean the OT). Also, this last year we’ve begun a Bible study at church whereby we’re reading through the Bible in one year. We started with the gospels, and then jumped from there right into the OT beginning with Genesis 1:1. It’s been really fascinating to observe people in the group making connections, and seeing Jesus in the OT in light of the gospels which we began our study with.

At the moment we’re reading through Jeremiah. In my study this morning I read through a portion that included Jeremiah 25 that contains this fascinating image of the cup of God’s wrath being poured out, not only on Israel but, “upon all who live on the earth.” It can all appear rather confrontational and fierce, and indeed it is. However, right there in the middle of this section the reader stumbles upon this:

The LORD will roar from on high; he will thunder from his holy dwelling and roar mightily against his land. He will shout like those who tread the grapes,* shout against all who live on the earth. The tumult will resound to the ends of the earth, for the LORD will bring charges against the nations; he will bring judgement on all mankind and put the wicked to the sword,” (25:30-31).

Pretty terrifying stuff, yeah? When I read this portion, I thought of another place in the Scriptures where the Lord roared from on high and it resounded to the ends of the earth:

“From the sixth hour until the ninth hour darkness came over all the land. About the ninth hour Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”—which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”…And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook and the rocks split,” (Matthew 27:45-46, 50-51).

The cup of God’s wrath has indeed been poured out upon Israel and upon all who live on the earth. It was done so as it was poured out on Christ Jesus, the true Israel, who takes all nations and all humanity up into his own human flesh and bears out the consequences of human sin on behalf of all humanity. As the prophet Isaiah proclaims, “it was the LORD’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand…my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities,” (53: 10, 11).

*evidently those who tread upon grapes shout. Who knew? Which makes me think of this, actually.

Every year I say that I’d like to read more and that never really seems to happen, what with the business of two children, work, etc. This year I’d like to be more diligent with my reading. Here are the books that I’d like to read this year, most of which are currently sitting on my shelves. Aside from 2-3 of these that I have read, all will be a first time through for me.

Theology (15)

Living God I & II (Orthodox Catechism); The Nicene Faith I & II, John Behr; Dogmatics in Outline, Karl Barth; Church Dogmatics I.1 & I.2, Karl Barth; Confessions, Augustine; Atheist Delusions, David Bentley Hart; Beauty of the Infinite, David Bentley Hart; Hope Among The Fragments, Ephraim Radner; Rule of Faith, Ephraim Radner & George Sumner; The Fate of Communion, Ephraim Radner etc.; Exclusion and Embrace, Miroslav Volf; The Book of Common Prayer, A Biography, Alan Jacobs

(Political?) Philosophy (3)

Debt, David Graeber; After Virtue, Alistair McIntyre; The Communist Manifesto, Marx & Engels

Chaplaincy (3)

Spiritual Care, Dietrich Bonhoeffer; Suffering Presence, Stanley Hauerwas; The Minister as Diagnostician, Paul Pruyser

Literature (10)

Dubliners, James Joyce; A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man, James Joyce; The Violent Bear it Away, Flannery O’Connor; Crime & Punishment, Dostoevsky; The Idiot, Dostoevsky; The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky; No Country for Old Men, Cormac McCarthy; All the Pretty Horses, Cormac McCarthy; Hamlet, Shakespeare; King Lear, Shakespeare

Classics (3)

The Divine Comedy, Dante; The Odyssey, Homer; The Aeneid, Virgil

Poetry (4)

Selected Works, Samuel Taylor Coleridge; Selected Works, W.B. Yeats; The World in the Shadow of God, Ephraim Radner; Sinners Welcome, Mary Karr

Parenting (2)

The Price of Privilege, Madeline Levine; Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids, Laura Markham

So, there you have it, 40 in all. Frankly, I will be impressed with myself if I can make it. I’ve always enjoyed reading theology, but this year I’d like to read more literature, so I’ve included 17 such works (Lit, Classics, Poetry). I also picked two “practical” categories which are pertinent for me chaplaincy (my job), and parenting.

Also, this list does not include other reading that I’ll have to keep up with. I’m audting a course with Radner this semester that will involve a good amount of reading. It also does not include Biblical studies stuff related to preaching, my subscription to First Things, blogs, news, and most importantly, the Bible.

Here’s to a good year.

ps – What have you read this past year that you think I should read to?

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